Authors: Kat Martin
It simply wasn't fair.
Still, Lindsey stared at him, unable to look away, fascinated until he turned round and caught her.
His dark head came up and those incredible blue eyes locked on her face.
“I am not decently clothed,” he said. “A lady would not look.”
Her chin inched up. “And a gentleman would not disrobe except in private!” Whirling her chair around, her pulse hammering far too fast, she jerked her plumed pen from its silver holder, jabbed it into the inkwell and stabbed it down on the paper, leaving a purple stain as she tried to scratch out the first paragraph of her upcoming column.
Thor said something beneath his breath and went back to hoisting bundles.
“Are you all right?”
Her head came up and she flushed guiltily at the sight of her employer and best friend, Krista Hart Draugr, approaching her desk. She started to say that she was just fine before Thor had stripped off half his clothes, but stopped when she realized Krista was referring to the argument she'd had earlier with the Earl of Fulcroft, not Thor.
“Bessie told me about the earl,” Krista went on. “I'm sorry I wasn't here.” She was tall, taller than most men, except, of course, for her husband and Thor. With her big green eyes and golden blond hair, she was a beautiful woman. And she had found exactly the right man for her in Leif. The pair had a nine-month-old son they adored, and as virile as both brothers appeared to be, soon there would probably be another addition to the family.
Lindsey looked up at Krista and smiled. “I am fine. Fulcroft was just blowing off steam.”
“Whatever he threatens, the paper will stand behind you. You don't have to write a retraction if you don't want to.”
Lindsey thought of Fulcroft's threat to dig into her past until he found something that would ruin her. He could, she knew. She had always been independent and a bit too reckless. It wouldn't take that much digging to discover her youthful indiscretion with the young Viscount Stanfield. Still, she doubted Lord Fulcroft would actually go through with his threat and she wasn't about to be blackmailed at any rate.
“As I said, he was just spewing hot air. After Thor's not-so-subtle warning, I doubt he will give me any more trouble.”
Krista glanced toward the back of the room, caught a glimpse of Thor's perspiration-soaked shirt and the open V where his muscular chest was exposed.
“I hope you aren't offended. My husband and his brother are difficult men to control.”
“That is an understatement.”
“I can close the door. It's just that it gets terribly hot in there.”
“Don't be silly. I have seen a man's chest before.”
Krista cast her a knowing glance that said,
not one like that one.
Which, of course, was true.
As her friend returned to her office, Lindsey fixed her gaze on the sheet of paper in front of her and tried to block the image of smooth dark skin and rippling muscles, but there was no way in the world that she could.
It was nearly three in the morning when Lindsey accepted the help of a footman and stepped down from the carriage, waited while her aunt Delilah stepped down, and the two of them made their way inside her parents' Mayfair mansion.
Standing in the marble entry, Lindsey handed her cloak to the butler, a thin, silver-haired man who had been with the family for more than twenty years. “Thank you, Benders,” she said.
He gave her a smile then took her aunt's wrap, as well. “Will there be anything more, my lady?”
“That will be all for tonight,” Aunt Dee said.
The butler shuffled away and Lindsey made her way into the Rose Drawing Room for a brief recap of the evening, a ritual she and Aunt Dee shared whenever she was in town.
Exhausted, Lindsey sank down on the rose velvet settee, wishing she could simply go to bed.
“My, I can't remember when I've had such a marvelous evening.” The Countess of Ashford, widow of the late Earl of Ashford, swept into the room behind her as if it were six in the evening, not numerous hours past midnight. As if they hadn't danced till Lindsey's feet ached and a kink throbbed in her neck. As if they hadn't smiled and made inane conversation until Lindsey thought her face would crack.
Though most of the time she enjoyed herself at affairs like the Marquess of Penrose's ball, tonight she found herself wishing she was somewhere besides a crowded drawing room, somewhere the air didn't smell of too-sweet perfume and shoe polish.
Aunt Dee poured herself a final glass of sherry and offered one to Lindsey, who firmly shook her head. Returning to the settee, Delilah settled herself at the opposite end from Lindsey.
“The Earl of Vardon was certainly attentive tonight.” She took a sip of sherry. “I think he is interested in you.”
She was tall, like Lindsey, but more robust, her figure still stunning. With her thick black hair and heavily lashed gray eyes, she looked at least ten years younger than her forty-six years, and half the men in London vied for her attention. Only a lucky few were granted the privilege of spending time with her.
“Well, I am not interested in Lord Vardon,” Lindsey said. “Or for that matter, any other man. At least not right now.”
Delilah sat back on the sofa. “I suppose I shouldn't encourage your independence, but in truth, I couldn't agree with you more. A woman should enjoy her youth while she is able. There is plenty of time later on for a husband and children.”
Aunt Dee was a bit of a rebel in her belief that a woman should enjoy the same freedoms as a man. It was amazing Lindsey's parents considered her a proper chaperone. Then again, her father and mother, Baron and Baroness Renhurst, had always been more concerned with their own affairs than those of their daughter.
“I like my life,” Lindsey said. “I like being able to do as I wish without some man ordering me about.”
“Just as you should, my dear. A woman has to be a bit more careful, more discerning in her affairs, but if she is shrewd enough, she can find any number of ways to enjoy herself.”
Lindsey imagined Aunt Dee had often made use of that advice. In a number of ways Lindsey admired her. It took courage for a woman to live exactly as she pleased.
Her thoughts returning to the evening past, Lindsey leaned back on the sofa. “I wonder if Rudy is home yet.” Her brother had been at the ball for a bit, but he had left early with some of his friends.
“I doubt he is here. Your brother's late hours are legendary. Odds are he won't be home before noon on the morrow.”
Lindsey straightened. “He is merely feeling his oats,” she defended. “Every young man goes through these stages.” Though Rudy was only a year younger than Lindsey, he was the baby of the family and heir to the barony. As such he had always been indulged.
“Your brother is reckless in the extreme. He is a wastrel who drinks too much and carouses with unsavory people. Your father should have taken him in hand years ago. Now he is grown and it is too late.”
“He is young, yet,” Lindsey argued. “In time, he'll grow out of it.” At least she hoped he would. Since Rudy had been a boy, he had been allowed to run wild. He had a terrible reputation as a rake, and Lindsey wasn't completely sure he was ever going to change.
Aunt Dee finished the last of her sherry. “Well, I suppose it is time we went to bed.”
Lindsey breathed a sigh of relief and rose from the sofa. “I believe you're right. Good night, Aunt Dee. I'll see you in the morning.”
Wearily she left the drawing room and headed upstairs. All the way there, she thought of Rudy and wondered if her aunt might not be at least partly correct.
udy arrived home the next day at ten o'clock in the morning. Lindsey was just finishing breakfast when she heard a noise in the entry. Hoping it was Rudy, she went in to see who had come into the house.
Her brother grinned as he staggered toward her, doffing his tall beaver hat. It fell from his fingers and rolled across the marble floor. “Mornin', sis.”
Standing a few feet away, the butler reached down and plucked up the hat. Pretending not to notice her brother's inebriated state, he set the hat down on the side table.
Lindsey marched toward her brother. “Good heavens, Rudy, you are completely and utterly foxed!”
He chuckled, a tall, lean young man with sandy hair and freckles. “You noticed, eh?” He stumbled, fell against the wall, swayed and fell again.
“Benders, will you help me get my brother upstairs to his room?”
“Of course, miss.”
The old man started forward, but Rudy lurched away. “Don't need any help. Just came by for a bath and a change of clothes, then I'm off. Meeting Tom Boggs and the boys at the club.”
Lindsey rounded on him, her hands clamped on her hips. “Are you insane? You can't possibly go to White's in the condition you are in. You will make an utter fool of yourself.”
Rudy frowned. “That bad, am I?”
“Worse. You can barely stay on your feet.”
Her brother shrugged his shoulders. His frock coat was rumpled, she saw, and spotted with heaven knew what in several places. “Maybe I'll lie down for a while, take myself a nap. Room seems to be spinnin' a bit.”
“Yes, I imagine it is.” Lindsey moved to his side and draped one of his arms across her shoulders, waited while Benders did the same. They headed up the curving staircase, Rudy's feet hitting every other step as they climbed up to the second floor. Benders was wheezing by the time they dumped him like an oversized lump of coal onto his big four-poster bed. The instant he hit the mattress, his eyes closed and he started snoring.
“Young master seems to have put on a bit of an all-nighter.”
“Yes, and it is hardly the first time.”
“Boy's high-spirited, is all.”
“Well, he had better learn to bring those high spirits under control before he winds up getting into trouble.”
Benders just nodded. Crossing the room, he summoned Mr. Peach, Rudy's valet, who had the dubious task of undressing him and putting him to bed.
Lindsey sighed as she left the room. Thank heavens Aunt Dee had missed her brother's performance. Though her aunt was all for being independent, she drew the line at behaving like a drunken lout.
Lindsey worked behind her desk on this week's column, penning notes on the Penrose ball. She was in the process of describing the lavish decorations, the huge urns overflowing with chrysanthemums, the ornate columns and gilt mirrors that had been brought in to make the ballroom look like Versailles, when Rudy arrived at the office. He stormed into
Heart to Heart
like a whirlwind set ablaze, his hazel eyes wide and his face a little pale, making his freckles stand out.
“LissyâI need to talk to you.” It was a name he had called her when he was too small to say
a nickname he rarely used anymore. It brought her head up, her gaze shooting to his face.
“Good grief, what is it? You look as if you are about to swoon.”
“I'm a man, Lindseyâmen don't swoon. But IâIâ¦I need to speak to you in private.”
There was something in his eyes that reminded her of the little boy he had once been. Lindsey rose from her chair and motioned for him to come upstairs to the room Professor Hart often used as his away-from-home study. Rudy followed her inside the high-ceilinged, book-lined chamber and closed the door.
Clamping down on a thread of worry, she turned to face him. “So what has happened to upset you so badly?”
Rudy took a breath, working to calm himself. “This morning, the police came to see me.”
“A constable named Bertram. He's the lead investigator on the Covent Garden murders.”
“What on earth did Constable Bertram want with you?”
As if his legs would no longer hold him up, Rudy sank down in one of the wooden chairs opposite the professor's battered oak desk, leaving Lindsey standing. “He wanted to ask me some questions about this latest murder. About both murders, in fact.”
“The police thought
might have information on the murders?”
“Not just information. Theyâ¦umâ¦seem to think I might be involved in some way.”
The words chilled her. None of this made any sense. “In what way could you possibly be involved in a murder?”
Rudy looked at her with a face full of misery. Beads of perspiration popped out on his forehead. “They seem to consider me a suspect, Lindsey. They acted as if I might be the man who actually committed the crimes.”
Lindsey sank down in the other wooden chair, her heart hammering dully. “What wouldâ¦” She moistened her lips. “What would make them think you were involved?”
Rudy looked away, staring out the window though he couldn't see anything but a patch of gray, overcast sky. Fall weather had finally arrived. The temperature had dropped and it looked as if a storm might be coming in.
“I knew her,” he said, “â¦the woman who was killed.”
Lindsey frowned. “But I thought the woman was aâ¦a lady of the evening.”
He looked even more miserable. “She considered herself an actress. Weâ¦umâ¦met one night at a sort of party at Tom Boggs'.”
The spoiled, youngest son of an earl was trouble and always had been. Ever since her brother had begun spending time with Tom and his worthless friends, Rudy hadn't been himself. Now he was involved with a prostitute. She was beginning to see a side of her brother she hadn't known existed.
But then, a young woman wasn't supposed to know about things like prostitution, and a young man was expected to sow his oats in such ways.
with her at the time she was murdered?”
“I'dâ¦umâ¦seen her shortly before it happened.”
She was afraid to ask the next question, afraid of what the answer might be. Her brother had been behaving badly for some time. She had worried that sooner or later he would wind up in trouble.
“What about the other womanâ¦the one who was murdered six months ago? Were youâ¦acquainted with her, as well?”
He nodded, long-faced and eyes downcast. “I was only just with her the once, but I think it was somewhere round the time she was killed.”
“What am I gonna do, sis?”
She took a steadying breath, her mind replaying all he had told her, trying to decide on the best course of action. “The first thing we shall do is speak to Father's solicitor, Mr. Marvin. Since he is an attorney, he can advise you as to what you should or should not say to the police.”
“I didn't kill those women. I shall simply tell them the truth. I don't see whyâ”
“I think you do see why or you would not have come to me for help.”
He glanced away, cleared his throat. “I admit to being a little worried. It isn't every day I am interviewed by the police.”
“Which is why we won't take any chances. Make an appointment with Mr. Marvin. Let us see what he has to say.”
Rudy reluctantly agreed. They spoke a few minutes more then returned downstairs. As soon as her brother had left the office, Lindsey went in to see Krista.
“If you aren't too busy, I could use a bit of advice.”
“I'm not too busy for you. Come on in.”
Lindsey sat down in the chair next to Krista's desk, tucking her full skirts neatly around her. Briefly, she told her friend about her brother and that the police had interviewed him as a suspect in the Covent Garden murders.
“That is what I said. I can hardly believe it. My brother might be a little wild, a bit reckless at times, but he is scarcely the sort to kill someone.”
“Which the police are sure to discover.”
“I certainly hope so.” She sighed. “I suppose there is little we can do, at least for the moment. We shall simply have to wait, see if the authorities decide to go further.”
“Which is highly unlikely. Rudy is, after all, your father's heir. Baron Renhurst is a highly respected member of the peerage.”
“You're right, of course. There is no reason for me to worry.”
“None whatsoeverâ¦though I am glad you advised your brother to speak to your father's attorney.”
It was the smart thing to do, she knew. She told herself the matter would likely disappear and hoped that it was true.
Lindsey returned to the office the following morning. She tried to concentrate on the article she was writing, but her thoughts continually strayed to Rudy. Yesterday he had spoken to Mr. Marvin, whose advice was not to talk to the police unless he was present.
Fortunately, Rudy had not been contacted by the authorities again.
“Still, it worries me,” Lindsey said to Krista. “After all, my brother did know both women.”
“Knowing them and murdering them are two far different things.”
Lindsey sighed. “Indeed, they are.”
But later that day when Rudy came rushing in, she couldn't stifle a jolt of fear. He sank down in the chair next to her desk.
“They came to see me again.”
“The police? You didn't talk to them without Mr. Marvin, did you?”
“They said they only had a couple more questions. Since I have nothing to hide, I didn't think it would hurt.”
Lindsey gritted her teeth. “So what did they want to know?”
“Theyâ¦um, asked where I was the nights the murders were committed.”
Her stomach tightened. The police were seriously considering Rudy as a suspect in the killings. “What did you say?”
“I told them I couldn't remember.”
“It's the truth, sis. I got drunk with Tom and the boys. That's all I remember until I woke up the next morning with a doozie of a headache in the back room of the Golden Pheasant.”
“The Golden Pheasant?”
He looked sheepishly away. “It's a gaming establishment. I go there with my friends.”
“Tell me the place is not located anywhere near Covent Garden.”
He made no reply, just stared down at his lap.
“Dear God, Rudy. What have you got yourself into?”
He looked up at her. “That's just it, sis. I haven't done anything but drink a little too much.”
He shrugged as if it were unimportant. “I've lost a few guineas here and there.”
But his guilty expression said it was more than a few and she thought how disappointed their father would be to learn the wastrel activities of his son.
“The thing is, I'm not a murderer. I justâ¦I don't know how I'm going to prove it.”
Neither did Lindsey. Still, as spoiled and overindulged as her brother was, she loved him. Both of them were a little reckless, a little impulsive. But she knew deep down that Rudy was innocent of the brutal crimes.
And she would do whatever it took to clear his name.
Thor watched young Rudy Graham leave Lindsey's desk and walk out of the office. Though he hadn't meant to listen to their conversation, he had overheard enough to know the lad was in trouble.
He understood how it could happen. When he had first arrived in London and could barely speak the language, he'd had a run-in with the law himself. He had been brawling in the street with a pair of thugs, trying to defend a young woman who was being accosted.
The moment the police arrived, the woman disappeared and Thor was unable to explain what had happened. Instead, he was shoved into the back of a police wagon along with the local riffraff and hauled down to the station. Leif had been forced to come down to gain his release. It seemed to Thor that once the authorities got a notion in their heads it was damned hard to dislodge it.
He looked over at Lindsey, who sat with her head bowed, her plumed pen unmoving in her slim fingers. Apparently the police had decided that young Rudy Graham had murdered two women.
The boy was in serious trouble.
Bracing himself for whatever reaction his offer might get, Thor walked over to Lindsey's desk. She looked pretty today, in her simple printed muslin dress, her honey hair swept back on the sides and held in place with turtle-shell combs. He wondered why he always seemed to notice the small things about her, then cursed himself because he did.